Sunday, 21 December 2014

The passing of a friend

Yesterday our precious boxer dog, Dixie passed from this world peacefully.

She was thirteen years old just over a month ago, a good age for a boxer by any standard. Chrissie and I are very upset, our dogs being a very important part of or lives; very, very much members of the family.

Dixie came to us only a few days before Christmas 2001. The breeder, having recognised us as responsible owners (we'd lost our previous boxer only a short while before) allowed us to bring her home aged only 7 weeks, having been reassured that she'd have a quiet, stress-free Christmas in our home. It meant a lot to us. She was a very tiny pup and I remember sitting on the kitchen floor nursing her, in tears, after a seemingly allergic reaction to titbits of turkey saw her face swell up alarmingly; I thought we were to lose her! Fortunately the reaction died away quite quickly, never to resurface.

That was the start of a long and happy relationship with our gorgeous boxer. She grew up with our border collie, Ragga, who herself passed away aged 13 and greatly enriched the life of my daughter Abi. Soon to follow Ragga was our chocolate lab, Tilly, and Dixie made a superb job of raising the upstart lab; always ready to growl and chastise her if she failed to follow our instructions. Together, this happy, inseparable pair have traveled with us on many outdoor adventures and been as far as Norway and Sweden in our motorhome. Only four years ago, Dixie accompanied Chrissie on her walk up the Pennine Way.

I believe that it's the unconditional love and affection caring owners receive from dogs that makes it so painful when they pass on; a dilemma Chrissie and I shall continue to face as years go by, since life without a canine angel is just unthinkable for us.

I wasn't really too much of a dog person before meeting Chrissie but it's one of many delights she has brought to our life together for which I'll be eternally grateful.

It's perhaps fitting she left us at Christmas time, being the time of year she first came here, leaving us, given our sadness, with so many beautiful memories. Thankfully, Tilly's still here with her loving, silly madness, though she's quite subdued just now, understandably. Tears are welling up again so I'll finish by sharing a few pictorial mementos of life with Dixie and I pray she's in a good place along with mine and Chrissie's previous four legged friends.

God bless you Dixie x

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Up in t'North Pennines again

Time for another journey north.

Chrissie had organised a ghost hunting trip up to Kirkcarrion, a bronze age burial site in Teesdale. We packed the van with backpacking gear, day sacs, strapped my road bike on the carrier and set off up the Great North Road (sounds better than the A1 don't it?).

Our first night was spent at a favourite van wild camp spot in Upper Teesdale. The weather looked dismal.

We met up with a friend who Chrissie was off to Kirkcarrion with. Chrissie planned to take our lab Tilly for company on the overnight camp while I took care of Dixie, our boxer, who's just turned 13; her days of long walks are over sadly.

As Chrissie left I took Dixie for a short wander then left for a run on the roadie. I left Teesdale at Newbiggin and climbed through mist and fog over the fells to Westgate in Weardale on a remote, gated road. I took no photos cos the weather was just 'orrible. Turning west from Westgate I entered the village of St John's Chapel. Imagine my delight when I came across the Chatterbox Cafe. Their endless coffee and delicious scones were a godsend on such a day. Give 'em a try if you're hereabouts. The proprietor, himelf a keen cyclist, tells me my return route takes me over the highest road in England. Wow! I leave, in heavy drizzle, climbing 1000 feet in around 2 miles. It's a slog but rewarding. From the top I enjoy the descent back into Teesdale at Langdon Beck, then steadily down to the van again.

Dixie and I had a quiet night in the van and next day I rewarded her with an easy wander along the Tees Railway Walk from Mickleton. We found a pleasant pace down to Romaldskirk.

We met up again with Chrissie and Tilly (who'd failed miserably in her attempts to find ghosts - see the full story here:, shopped in Middleton in Teesdale then pointed the van north again to the wilds of the Otterburn ranges in Upper Coquetdale.

If you've not been up here it really is true wilderness. With much of the land owned by the MOD it's one of the army's biggest training locations but allows free access so long as you observe basic rules relating to training schedules and red flags. We're regular visitors and had arranged to meet another friend at another wild camping location. There were no red flags but the weather was still dismal.

The next day, despite miserable, misty weather Chrissie set of for a long walk with our friend James but I opted for another bike ride. Heading down Upper Coquetdale along the quiet road I encountered few vehicles.

After an hour or so I found myself down in Alwinton.

After a short break I turned round and rode back up the valley.

We enjoyed a great meal, beers and wine that night then, the following morning, we drove down to Alwinton ...

 ... and left for a long walk up to the remote top of Wether Cairn.

We had a great day, with somewhat improved weather and finally, some views.

We spent that night on the moors above Rothbury, dropping into the town next morning for supplies.

Heading south west we aimed for the Camping & Caravanning Club's site at Bellingham, on the edge of Kielder.

We've bin here a number of times and we're becoming quite familiar with the area now. I felt it was time for another ride so, on a cold morning I rode off up into Kielder Water and Forest Park.

I arrived at Kielder Castle, former summer hunting lodge of the Duke of Northumberland, just in time for lunch.

I'd come up all the way on the, quiet, roads but on the way back I started out on the south bit of the Lakeside Way.

It was pleasant along the trail, but after a while I tired of the slow rate of progress. It was chilly and there were several gates, so I returned to the road to speed, and warm, up.

This beautiful church near Bellingham appears to have recently become a house.

That was a 40 mile ride, still quite a long way for me (though I have done longer) but I enjoyed it and my Charge Spoon saddle proved comfy enough for the task.

For our last day we chose a fairly easy walk so Dixie could join us. She's really beginning to show her age these days, particularly in the lack of control over her back legs, poor love, but still seems to enjoy joining us on shorter walks. In the end we covered at least six miles so not bad going for our 13 year old.

Leaving Kielder Castle we set out along the north side of the Lakeside Way. Dunno what this little shrine was about.

After 3 miles or so we came upon Silvas Capitalis aka the Forest Head. If you look carefully you can see Tilly in the first pic and me 'n' Tilly in the second.


Back at Kielder Castle, this is the Minotaur Maze.

We had lunch at the Castle's Cafe ...

... and on the drive back to Bellingham were greeted by this fantastic temperature inversion. It looked almost like a lake down in the valley.

We'd enjoyed a great week in an area we enjoy visiting again and again.